Alien:Isolation is a difficult game to define. From the opening, the atmosphere is breathtaking. From the moment you step on Sevastapol, I was struck by how great the surroundings were. They reminded me a lot of System Shock 2, albeit updated.
However, a few hours in I was frustrated and almost gave up on the game altogether. Alien:Isolation is a game of two halves, a grade-A atmosphere and a sub-par gameplay mechanic.
I thought, when I started playing, that when the alien turns up you should find a locker, hide and then try to creep by it. Nope.
Maybe I should try to use the motion tracker and plan my movements? Nope.
Maybe I should use some of the items I’ve crafted? Nope.
The alien runs around, then stops, then turns, then finds you for no reason. It doesn’t follow any patterns. Is that true to the first movie? Sure. Is it a fun game? Nope.
The strategy that works: setting the game on easy and crouching behind a crate under the alien’s nose. That’s one of the main problems with this game. On anything more than easy, the game is too punishing. The obvious strategies that the game would appear to have been built around don’t work.
Once I set the game up that way, so that I could almost ignore the alien, the game became a lot more entertaining for a while. The other humans and synthetics are much more reasonable opponents, where you can sneak around them and play the game as it was intended.
And for a long time I enjoyed Alien:Isolation. However, they weren’t finished with “cheat” mechanics. Towards the end of the game, there are a lot of quicktime events. Ripley can do things in quicktime that she can’t accomplish in the game itself (like climbing small barriers). You have tools to get by some doors, but they don’t work on others. And most of all, you backtrack. A lot.
At one point, I was trying to get past an area where I had done everything possible. Unfortunately, I’d done it in the wrong order and had to backtrack to do it again. Not a bug, though. This is part of the game’s walkthrough on other sites.
Which is why Alien:Isolation was such a frustrating game to play. It had so many glimmers of excellence just getting buried under a heap of poor mechanics. It felt like they were trying to extend the hours of gameplay, when this would have been a perfect game for a quick playthrough.
By the time the ending came about (another quicktime event), I was more than ready to see it end. But the game had one last disappointment to give me, which I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, it involves pressing a few buttons at the right time.
Overall, I give Alien:Isolation 3/5 stars, meaning I liked it. However, since it’s my blog and I make the rules, I’ll break it down into 5/5 for graphics, sound design and set design (if that’s a thing in games), and 2/5 for game mechanics. It reminded me of Alien 3, so much potential, but it just didn’t quite carry it off.
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